The Promised Rest

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'Again, in that passage [He says], They will never enter My rest' (Hebrews 4:5).

It seems odd to take one passage from the Bible, but there is so much that can be garnered from that single sentence. Today we are going to take a closer look into Hebrews 4:1-11 and grasp the reality of the ‘Promised Rest’.

Defining Key terms

  • Rest

There are 2 different types of rest found in Hebrews 4. The first being katapausis (greek)  which is essentially the same as our English translation of the word rest: to cease from work or labour. 

The second is sabbatismos (greek), which is about the Sabbath day, a weekly period to repose from secular activities.

  • Obedience and Disobedience

In the secular definition: obedience is complying, following orders or instructions whilst disobedience is not complying to the said orders and instructions.

In faith: ‘obedience is the practical acceptance of the authority and will of God. It includes both submitting to Him and then expressing that submission in actions, words and thoughts. To be obedient is to be in agreement with God… to be disobedient is to yield to self-will instead of surrendering to God and desiring His will in all things’

For your information: I am going to be mostly using the TPT and HTBC translation in bold. The HTBC translation is made available to you when you hover over the scripture such as this one (John3:17).

  • Do you have your bible ready?
  • Do you have a pen and paper for making notes with?
  • Is your heart and mind receptive to what we are about to study

With our keywords defined and our bibles on hand, let’s dig in!

What is the rest?

'for it says in the Scriptures,  "And on the seventh day, God rested from all his works" and again, as stated before, "They will never enter into my calming place of rest"' (Hebrews 4: 4-5)

For most of the chapter, the rest described is the katapausis rest, the one in which we cease from labour. In relation to God, labour is man’s efforts to please and obtain God’s rest through rituals and ordinances, for this rest is not physical it is spiritual, as such all our man-made efforts are futile especially knowing that it is God who has already provided us with rest: there is ‘no more self-effort as far as salvation is concerned’ (MacArthur). Another definition for rest is an abode, an abode is a place where one is settled and is at ‘home’ both literally and physically, but I love how MacArthur expands on this definition. In his definition, he equates rest to being settled (having an abode), ‘established, rooted, grounded, unmoveable in christ’ to such an extent that one’s faith cannot be tossed by any latest ‘neo-wokeness’, religion, ideology or lifestyle.

When we turn to (Genesis 2:2) we read the scripture which Paul quotes in verse 4 that ‘“And on the seventh day, God rested from all his works”. Paul quotes from the very first book of the Bible/ Torah which speaks of how God created the Earth and everything within in 6 days, but after all the work was done, God could now enjoy the creation he had made. It was in this rest that God ‘formed* man from dust, ‘God breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.’ ( Genesis 2:7). We were formed to dwell in God’s all surrounding rest, to have unwavering peace in God and rely wholly and solely on his word. However, because of the first sin rest was removed and Man was forced to labour and toil in pain (Genesis 3: 17-19). 

The cause of Restlessness

They will never enter into my calming place of rest” (Hebrews 4:5)

Sin took us away from rest, away from the complete work of God. However, in this particular verse (verse 5) the ‘they’  refers to the people of Israel ‘who were delivered from bondage and brought out of Egypt by Moses… [they were the] ones who heard and still rebelled’ (Hebrews 3:17)** and disobeyed God. The Israelites had been in bondage, oppressed and enslaved in Egypt (Exodus 1:13) and the Lord wished to bring them into a place of rest a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’ (Exodus 3:8). In bringing the Israelites from enslavement and heavy labour into the physical land flowing with milk and honey the Lord was foreshadowing the spiritual land of His rest which he would bring mankind into. However, the generation that had initially left the land of Egypt in (Exodus 12:29-42) were not the generation who entered into the promised rest, into the land flowing with milk and honey (Numbers 14: 28-30). These Israelites were the first to hear of God’s promised rest, ‘the good news of deliverance [but] failed to enter into that realm of faith’s rest because of their unbelieving hearts’ (Hebrews 4:6), in other translations it says disobedience. Their disobedience in God caused restlessness.

Their disobedience in God caused restlessness.

As defined earlier, disobedience is not surrendering to God’s will but, what actually causes disobedience? For this, we turn to the first temptation in Eden in (Genesis 3: 1-7). When the serpent approached Eve he never actually instructed her to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree, for Eve probably would not have obeyed the serpent, what the serpent actually did was far more cunning, he brought doubt and distrust into the mind of the woman. Through his words, Eve lost trust in God’s will for her and Adam and once she believed the lies of the serpent she took the fruit and ate it, thereby disobeying God’s instructions. Paul Ellis simply writes ‘Adam’s disobedience was not the problem but rather a symptom of a deeper problem, which is that he did not trust God…People think that God rejected Adam in the Garden but it’s the other way around. Adam rejected God’.

For they turned away from faith and walked away in fear; they failed to trust in his power to help them when he was near.
 (Psalm 78:2)***

Despite hearing about the promised rest, the Israelites did not enter because, at the very core of their hearts they did not trust in God’s vision, they did not believe in his promises and it becomes easier to not obey when you do not trust. There is this hymn that goes as follows:

Trust and obey,
 For there’s no other way 
To be happy in Jesus, 
But to trust and obey.

It becomes easy to obey his commands when we trust Him. When a parent tells a babe to do something they obey because they have full confidence and trust in their parents to protect them.

Entering into Rest

Without trust in God’s word, there is no strengthening of faith and the power of God’s word is not activated (Hebrews 4:2). However, ‘for those who believe [and trust in his words] faith activates the promise and we experience the realm of confident rest’ (Hebrews 4:3) but if our hearts remain unbelieving such rest is not granted.

There is an urgency for us not to ‘harden [our] hearts’ (Hebrews 4:7) not to lose trust in his word, to remain confident when all else tells otherwise. ‘We must be extremely careful to ensure that we all embrace the fullness of that promise and not fail to experience it… so that no one falls short by following the same pattern of doubt and unbelief‘ (Hebrews 4: 1,11) that Adam and Eve and the Israelites followed. The passages above inform us that even as believing Christians it is easy to not enter into His perfect rest when we stop believing in God’s promises.

People think that God rejected Adam in the Garden but it’s the other way around. Adam rejected God’.

Paul Ellis

The people heard the promises but did not believe: hearing is not enough, one must believe. MacArthur gives an example of a man caught speeding, it is not enough that the man knows the roadside code of conduct but he must act upon the code of conduct otherwise the code of conduct is made redundant and the man will be penalised for his speeding. It is as Jesus says to the Pharisees in (John 5:39-40)

‘You are busy analyzing the Scriptures, frantically poring over them in hopes of gaining eternal life. Everything you read points to me, yet you still refuse to come to me so I can give you the life you’re looking for—eternal life!’

Although the Pharisees read and studied the scriptures, their hearts were hardened that they could not see Jesus within those scriptures, they could not see the Father’s heart. They believed more in the literature of the Bible than in the one who wrote the Bible, as somebody who has studied literature you cannot separate the author from the novel/ play/ poem but that is what the Pharisees were trying to do.

So then we must ask how do we trust or stay believing in God?

Take the following extract from The 4 Foundations for Right Prayer

The wisdom learned from this life has taught us all not to trust strangers and for this reason, we will never tell a stranger our inner-most thoughts. Only people we have spent countless hours and days sharing our joys and sorrows with do we trust … In the same manner, a Christian who prays is a Christian who knows and trusts the Lord, they are in tune with the Father’s heart that when the Father says something they believe and when they are faced with temptation, doubt and fear their knowledge of God is not superficial but is rooted to the rock of ages that no storm can shake.

 Simply put,We cannot trust someone we don’t know, and that is the secret of learning to trust God’. Get to know God by speaking to him, by remembering all that he had done for you, by finding out more about him through his book ( making sure not to omit the author of the bible in your thoughts when reading and studying the bible).

The ‘Promised Rest’ Extended to Us

‘If the promise of rest was fulfilled when Joshua brought the people into the land, God wouldn’t have spoken later of another rest yet to come. So we conclude that there is still a full and complete rest waiting for believers to experience’ (Hebrews 4:8-9)

Yes, Joshua did bring the new Israelite generation into the physical promised land flowing with milk and honey but the promise of rest does not stop there. For the land of milk and honey as previously discussed is a shadow of the spiritual land of milk and honey (spiritual rest/ abode) that God would bring to all mankind. 

I would like to note that verse 9 is the only time when the sabbatismos rest is used, as defined earlier sabbatismos refers to the sabbath day. According to (Exodus 20:8-11) ‘ the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, on which the children of Israel were to rest, in remembrance that God created the universe in six days and then “rested” on the seventh day’. The Sabbath was the day of completion and as New Testament Christians, our Sabbath is not a defined day but is Jesus Christ the ‘full and complete rest‘ (Hebrews 4:9). This is why Jesus could ‘break the Sabbath and completely set it aside in the new testament [as the] sabbath was [simply] an instituted symbol of the true rest’ (MacArthur). To clarify Jesus is our ‘Promised Rest’.

( I’ll give you time to pause and reflect on what you have just read)

Now knowing that Jesus is our promised rest, therefore let no one ‘judge you because of what you eat or drink, or insist that you keep the feasts, observe new moon celebrations, or the Sabbath? All of these were but a prophetic shadow and the evidence of what would be fulfilled, for the body is now Christ!’ (Colossians 2:16-17). For we ( the believers) are in the sabbath so we do not need to observe the ordinances of the Old Testament Jews who are waiting for the true rest that has already come.

The end.

Authors note:

This post has taken me a total of 6 months to finally start and I honestly don’t know why. I began looking into the book of Hebrews on 1st November 2019 and I just didn’t know where to go. When I asked a few months back I was given Hebrews 4 to explore but this post took much longer than anticipated but I am so glad that something is up at last.

*Please note that there is a difference between the word created and the word formed, and as such God forming man in Genesis2:7 is not a contradiction to God creating man in Genesis 1:27. However, this is a separate study that if God willing we may cover in a separate post.

** When the bible was first created there were no chapters or verses, so you will find a lot of chapters are continuations of the previous chapter. As such to understand the context of scripture it is worth reading the verse/ chapter prior or ahead. ( check how to study the bible)

*** I would encourage you all to read Psalm 78 it’s basically has everything written on this post

References:

(please note these are not affiliate links, I do not get any payment if you purchase any of the reference books below)

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A hungry young Christ focused girl wanting to explore the bible and help others on their walk with God.

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